I was so impressed by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book that I couldn't stop talking about it, I really loved it. After one such conversation my good friend Sian said that she had a book which I might like to read as it was also set in 1946 and was about the the post war era. As it turns out she was absolutely right, I really did enjoy this book.
The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes is based on a true story and is about a group of women who travel on the British Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Victorious, to England from Australia to meet up with the husbands they married during the war. The story follows the journey of four of 650 'brides' on board the ship. These four share a makeshift cabin together and they make the six week long voyage away from their family and friends in Australia to an unknown and brand new life in England. But the ship has other passengers; the full navy crew of the Victorious is still on board which comprises of 1,100 men along with 19 aircraft and all the related equipment which makes an aircraft carrier work! The navy has agreed to bring the brides from all around the world back to Britain to be reunited with their husbands after the war is over. They commission the Queen Mary and other luxury liners to do the job, but, time is short and there are a lot of brides to relocate so they decide to revamp the Victorious so it can carry some of the brides from Australia.
The book begins with a rambling first part which I found a little boring, to be honest, but once we meet the four girls and get into the real story, then it becomes 'un-put-downable'! We are introduced to the ladies as they are told they have a place on a 'bride ship' which will take them on the journey to England. We accompany them as they say their goodbye's to family and friends at home in Australia. The comparison between their lifestyles is quite fascinating as they each come from different backgrounds and have differing relationships with their families and their husbands. The departure scene is very moving and I did shed a tear or two as the girls climbed the gangplank and left everything familiar to them behind.
Then the journey begins and it soon becomes clear that the shear logistics necessary to make this trip without discipline problems is a huge headache, especially as the captain of the ship is a lifetime navy man without a wife of his own. To help maintain the status quo marines are posted outside the ladies living quarters and strict rules are enforced to make sure the ladies and the servicemen are kept apart, but, six weeks is a long time to be alone at sea and a great deal happens to the brides and the men.
As the days unfold, so do the relationships between the women. The story really is about friendship, betrayal, secrecy and trust and of course, it is mainly about love. It is a fascinating tale with believable characters who show their true colours in one way or another as the journey progresses.
One of the most interesting things about this book for me was that, as unbelievable as the story may seem in parts, this really did happen to these women. I found it particularly telling of the times that some of the brides on board received telegrams or radio messages telling them "Do Not Come - Not Wanted Here" in which case they were put off the ship at the next port of call and arrangements were made to send them back to Oz, without any recourse at all! I did a bit of checking after I read this book and found out that Australia lost almost a complete generation of it's female population to foreign servicemen during the war years, mainly those from the US and the UK and both British and American authorities sanctioned that arrangements must be made to pick these women up and transport them to join their husbands in America and Britain after the was over.
I was spellbound by the book which is a great story with lovely characters and also by the real story which is absolutely true. I would definitely read this book again at some point and recommend it wholeheartedly.
Did you know about the 'brides' story? (I had no idea!)
Does reading a story based on fact alter your enjoyment of it is any way?